By Raïssa Robles
Chinese diplomats assigned in the Philippines have generally come a long way in such a short time.
You can now see a whole world of difference in the way they dress and carry themselves and talk.
I remember that before Liu Jianchao became the present ambassador, the previous one was loath to speak on the record and conduct a record formal press briefing for the foreign press.
My hubby Alan recalls that when he was covering the foreign affairs beat, he once asked a Chinese diplomat what he thought of Filipino cuisine. The diplomat frankly said he hadn’t tasted any because he always ate inside his own embassy in order to save money.
China’s growing wealth is being reflected in the way their envoys dress. The diplomatic staff members before were all scruffily dressed in black pants and white shirts, some with shirt tails showing. Even the cut of the chief envoy’s suit looked as if his tailor was just learning geometry.
In contrast, the new Ambassador Liu Jianchao is suave, sophisticated, well turned out and can even smile.
I don’t recall a previous Chinese ambassador smiling at a joke or cracking one. But Ambassador Liu does.
I tried to needle him once with a pointed question. He merely flicked it away. Ambassador Liu is part of that new breed of Chinese diplomats who are well schooled even in the western art of diplomacy. He took International Relations at England’s Oxford University and became the spokesman of China’s foreign ministry before his assignment in Manila.
I have wondered why China sent him to Manila, which is classified as an emerging nation. Perhaps it’s because Manila has always been considered an important listening post in Asia for various wealthy nations.
With the arrival of Ambassador Liu, the embassy has thrown the ambassador’s residence wide open to many local and foreign journalists. The residence is a quaint place, with a central courtyard and Moorish tiles on the wall.
Another diplomatic staff member who is a far cry from his predecessors is the rock star-handsome Chinese Embassy spokesman Ethan Sun Yi. Journalists can actually call him on his mobile and he will answer questions even though the caller is not a member of the Chinese state media.
The recent banning of Chinese Embassy’s first secretary Li Yonsheng by our Department of Foreign Affairs for “rude behavior” is somewhat unusual but understandable.
Both parties must be under very great stress during their verbal tussles over both countries’ opposing claims to the Spratlys group of islands.
It also means that the Philippine foreign office is asserting the country’s own claims and not merely rolling over to be tickled.
Instead of denying the charge of rude behavior or giving a retort that would have worsened the situation, Ethan Sun Yi smoothly said:
We don’t want to comment on the remarks by someone who hides his or her name.
Each and every diplomat of the Chinese embassy in the Philippines is working with every sense of sincerity and responsibility for the improvement and development of the China-Philippines friendly relations.
I can’t wait for round two.